Laser Vision Correction is “Good to Go” for Members of The Armed Forces

April 22, 2013

Refractive Surgery is Military Ready

There are many phrases and sayings that find their way into our conversations that actually have military origins. For example, did you know that "heard it through the grapevine" is a reference to the early days of telegraphy? The wires were strung along the countryside in patterns that reminded soldiers of grapevines. Because these wires often made their way through farms (and often uneducated farmers), soldiers would say that "hearing it through the grapevine" meant that the information probably wasn't accurate.

The phrase “good to go”  is a military phrase that's  worked its way into everyday speech as well. The phrase denoted that an individual or group was mission-ready.  Though the military initially took a skeptical view of refractive surgery for its soldiers and seamen, procedures such as PRK and LASIK are now "good to go and mission-ready" themselves, and can often allow soldiers to operate more effectively without the need for vision correction.

“This gets to the premise for performing refractive surgery in the armed forces, specifically in aviators,” says David Tanzer, MD, an ophthalmologist in Dan Diego and a retired Navy flight surgeon who has either directed or participated in several landmark military refractive surgery studies.  “It’s because the environmental stresses those warriors face make the wearing of contact lenses and/or glasses much more difficult.  For an aviator, G-forces will pull spectacles down off the nose and contact lenses have been shown to occasionally become displaced in an aviation environment.  Also for a special operator, having his glasses broken or developing microbial keratitis from contact lens wear would make him a casualty, unable to do his job and a danger to his team.”

The military makes free refractive surgery available to all its members, but there is a wait list in which certain occupations get priority.  In the Navy, for example, those on flight status or dive status (i.e. Special Forces) are at the top.

Even though Laser Refractive Surgery is allowed the military retains the right to disqualify a post-refractive patient for a number of reasons.  No one can have a refractive error outside of +/- 8 diopters or astigmatism greater than 3 diopters.  There must be at least 12 months between the last procedure and the candidate’s physical to allow the eyes to stabilize and there must not have been any complications at the time of surgery.

Young people considering military service need to check with their recruiter as to the vision requirements of that branch of service to determine their suitability for service and need to be sure that their ophthalmologist is familiar with those requirements.

Here are some other common phrases with military origins:

During the American Civil War, prisoners of war were kept incarcerated in temporary facilities. The prison guards drew a line around the perimeter, instructing the prisoners that anyone who crossed the line would be shot on sight, making it the “dead line.”

On a ship, the crew took their drinking water from a cask called the “scuttlebutt,” and whenever a few men gathered to take a break they would inevitably gossip about the voyage, their superiors, or anything else of interest.  Eventually, the word for the water barrel came to refer to the petty gossip itself.

Bite the Bullet
Surgery in the battlefield was generally performed under unsanitary conditions, with a minimum of supplies or postoperative care. When soldiers were injured during a war and anesthetics like chloroform or whiskey had run out, doctors had no choice but to proceed with all manner of surgery, including amputations, even if the patient was fully awake and cognizant. In such circumstances, the soldier was often given a bullet to bite down on to help him cope with the pain and keep still for the procedure.

The term for sideburns was originally “burnsides,” named after famed Civil War general Ambrose Burnside, who wore his facial hair in this distinctive fashion. Although Burnside had some successes in the war, he was not exactly the most brilliant military tactician, and because of his reputation for getting things wrong, the term “burnsides” was jokingly switched to “sideburns.”

Dr. Jeffrey D. Gold is a board certified surgeon who specializes in Epi-LASIK vision correction for first responders and members of the US Armed Forces.


*Excerpted from an article in “Refractive Surgery” edited by Arturo Chayet, one of the world’s most prolific Laser Vision Correction surgeons and a true Refractive Surgery pioneer.

*Military sayings excerpted from Divine Caroline